I tried the SNAP challenge; it’s not a snap

Christina Tuttle, Staff Writer

For $28, you can purchase two movie tickets, five Starbucks Frappuccinos, or three combo meals from Ezell’s. But an entire week’s worth of food? I was skeptical. So, I tried it: I lived off the same amount of money that I would receive for food if I were eligible for SNAP benefits.
First of all, it should be noted that it is impossible for someone like me, who is not eligible for SNAP, to fully understand and replicate the experience. After one week, I was able to go back to spending what I wanted on food.
That being said, by participating in the SNAP Challenge, I learned a lot about living on a low income. I now have a much broader understanding of the challenges faced by those who are receiving SNAP benefits.
On the first day of the week, I drove down to the grocery store armed with my $28. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but I spent over an hour at the grocery store shopping for food. Before that, I’d never noticed before how expensive food is for someone living off of a limited income. While I shoved my shopping cart through Safeway, I felt self-conscious as I kept a tally of my total cost of groceries.
SNAP benefits are intended to provide recipients with a nutritious diet. Yet, there was an enormous price difference between highly-processed and healthy foods. With less than $30 to spend on groceries, the healthy option was a privilege that I couldn’t afford. Everything that I bought, besides a bag of baby carrots, was processed, boxed, or canned. I couldn’t afford fresh fruit, and the only meat that I got was a clearance package of chicken hot dogs.
Throughout the week, I was never hungry – I could have bought enough Top Ramen to sustain myself for months. But it was difficult to partition out my food for the week. After the first two days, I had eaten all my variety of food and was stuck eating sandwiches for the rest of the week.
Halfway through the week, I met a friend at Starbucks. While there, I realized that I couldn’t afford anything on the menu. So, while my friend had a Frappuccino and a scone, I was stuck with iced water. This was one of the most difficult parts of living off a low income. It’s hard to be social when nearly every activity to do with friends costs money.
By the last day, I was relieved to be finished with the challenge. After living off SNAP benefits for a week, I’m able to sympathize with people who have to do it for a prolonged period of time. But, I realized how lucky I am to have to ability to choose what I eat and get together with friends without worrying about money.